The Anatomy of the Brain, Explained in a Series of Engravings


These gorgeous stipple-engraved plates come from The Anatomy of the Brain, Explained in a Series of Engravings, by Sir Charles Bell. The book was first published in 1802 and contained 12 plates, 11 of which were printed in colour; these come from an edition which appeared in 1823.


In the introduction to the book, Bell wrote:

In the Brain the appearance is so peculiar, and so little capable of illustration from other parts of the body, the surfaces are so soft, and so easily destroyed by rude dissection, and it is so difficult to follow an abstract description merely, that this part of Anatomy cannot be studied without the help of Engravings.


Bell obtained a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1799, and quickly became very successful. Soon after graduating, he joined the university's Faculty of Medicine and was then admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons. His Faculty peers became jealous of his success and had him barred from practising at the Royal Edinburgh Infirmary. In 1804, Bell travelled to London, where he would work for more than 30 years before returning to accept a position as professor of surgery.


In London, Bell became even more successful. He helped found Middlesex Hospital Medical School; he was the first professor of anatomy and surgery at the College of Surgeons; and his 1811 book, An Idea of a New Anatomy of the Brain, contained the first distinction between sensory and motor nerves, and is therefore considered to be instrumental in establishing clinical neurology as a discipline. By the time he returned to Edinburgh in 1836, Bell was considered to be the foremost physician and scientist in the country.

More of Bell's engravings can be found at Wellcome Images. See also his Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery: Trepan, Hernia, Amputation, Aneurism and Lithotomy, at Iowa Digital Library.



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$11 000?! I'll wait for the News of the World serialisation.

By Kim Hunter (not verified) on 22 Feb 2009 #permalink

Thanks for this. Want the first edition, too! I seem to recall a post on StreetAnatomy a while back about John Bell, Sir Charles Bell's brother and also a medical illustrator. StreetAnatomy was quite critical of John Bell's work, as sacrificing artistic sensibility for anatomical rigour. I don't know anything about medical illustration, so it was fascinating to read about what is considered to be of artistic merit within that niche. Hope they post a comment here about Sir Charles Bell's work, as I'd enjoy learning more from the perspective of contemporary medical illustrators.

The modern consensus seem to be that Magendie, not Bell, discovered the distinct sensory and motor functions of the dorsal and ventral roots. Furthermore, it seems clear that Bell actually altered his early manuscripts so as to make it appear he had priority. See the book "The way in and the way out" by Paul Cranefield.